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    ‘Get back a little headspace’: tips and tools to improve your work-life balance

    As hybrid working becomes the post-pandemic norm, balancing work and time for your personal life becomes even more important. Simple digital tools can keep employees organised and more in control

    Digital artist at his home studio working and taking a break.
    As we move to hybrid working with staff based in the office and at home, time management will become ever-more important. Photograph: visualspace/Getty Images
    As we move to hybrid working with staff based in the office and at home, time management will become ever-more important. Photograph: visualspace/Getty Images
    David Benady

    Last modified on Wed 6 Oct 2021 12.03 BST

    Let’s face it, when it comes to online meetings we’ve all done it – turned off the video camera to go and feed the cat, accept a parcel delivery or water the houseplants, and then turned the camera back on and nodded sagely.

    Professional and domestic life have become blurred during the work-from-home era of the past 18 months, and remote workers have unearthed new and unconventional ways of balancing home living with work requirements.

    “The pandemic has changed what time-saving means to us nowadays,” says Anita Marsh, VP of global small and medium business marketing at finance software company SAP Concur. “That blending of work and life has meant we have had to be even more precious with our time,” she adds.

    “The more we can do to plan and protect what is important to us in those two areas, the better equipped we are to avoid making compromises in how we show up for our families and our work,” she says. Marsh sees the post-pandemic era as an opportunity to reimagine the way we use our time to improve our way of living and mental wellbeing as well as to explore more productive ways of working.

    Blending work and life means we have had to be even more precious with our time

    As we move to hybrid working with staff based in the office and at home, handling time effectively will become ever-more important. Businesses and staff are looking for “time hacks” to cut out unnecessary tasks and claw back time through the clever use of technology and systems.

    For instance, one challenge of working from home is sitting through back-to-back video meetings throughout the day. This can be physically and mentally draining. Where previously, staff in an office setting would have a few minutes to walk from one meeting room to another, with video conferencing, there is a tendency to dive directly from one call to the next.

    Marsh says that this can be remedied with a simple hack using an online calendar. “One of the things that online calendars allow is, instead of scheduling meetings for half an hour, it makes them 25 minutes, or 50 minutes rather than an hour. So now if I schedule a 30-minute meeting, it appears as 25 in my calendar, which gives me five minutes of break time between one meeting and another to get back a little headspace.” She adds that this IT update has already been rolled out to all SAP employees, to ensure they get some time back between online meetings.

    Woman drinking coffee and using laptop at home.
    The transformation of working life brought about by the pandemic gives employees a greater say in how they work. Photograph: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

    There are other ways of using digital diaries to ensure the work-life balance is respected. Before the pandemic, people refrained from scheduling in late meetings as they knew staff left the office in the evening. But with the shift to working from home, meetings are often scheduled after 5.30pm and beyond. To preserve the sanctity of domestic life, this should be avoided. But where late meetings are unavoidable, staff should block out time after the end of the working day on their digital calendars to make sure meetings won’t interrupt important activities outside work, such as childcare or leisure. They should also feel empowered to claw back that time in the working day.

    It is also important to finish a meeting when its objective has been achieved, rather than letting it run for the full 50 minutes just because that time is scheduled in. This can be enhanced by making sure everyone is prepared before going into the meeting with a planned agenda so precious time isn’t wasted with people scratching their heads and trying to get on track.

    People need to think of the pandemic as a pivot point in how they achieve their goals

    Perhaps one of the most difficult time hacks is cutting down on what Marsh calls “job pollution”. This is when employees end up doing jobs that are not their responsibility because they worry that no one else will do them. “All of a sudden people are spending more time on tasks outside their remit than they are on doing their own jobs,” she says.

    “The solution for that is to radically prioritise, to be very clear about what your role is, to push back on things that aren’t your job. Just because it hasn’t got a home doesn’t mean it is yours to do. Someone else will pick it up or the employer will find a new person to do that job. If it is important enough, they will invest in the resources to do it.”

    The transformation of working life brought about by the pandemic gives employees a greater say in how they work, with many companies offering office-based staff the option of working from home if they choose. With this element of empowerment, the search is on to find better ways of working to free up time to live better.

    As Marsh says: “People need to think of the pandemic as a pivot point in considering how they achieve their goals and get things done and save time for themselves and for others in their team and organisations.”

    SAP Concur solutions help automate finance processes to free up time for staff, provide insights into spending and future-proof your business